Divine providence as a security system. A drunken 32 year-old Carlos Alonzo broke and entered into the Church of Christ The King in Monterrey, Mexico and left with a statue of St. Michael the Archangel. As he staggered out of the church with the statue, he tripped and fell on the statue’s sword, seriously wounding his neck. A passer-by called for medical help, and he was soon turned over to Moterrey police. The statue was unharmed. [17 Jan] This is the second attempted theft of a replica of the St. Michael statue over the past 12 months, the previous one being of a different replica housed in France this past October.
McCarthy-era schools come to the UK. In Hylands School in Chelmsford, Essex (UK), near London, students are not allowed to have “relationships” or to touch “any other member of the school community”, according to the Telegraph. The justifications include encouraging “mutual respect” and “professional behaviour” expected in a workplace by their future employers. Many parents are withdrawing their kids from the school, saying that it does not allow their kids to learn about healthy relationships, or to learn what touching is appropriate or inappropriate. [10 Jan]
Fight for your right to malinger. 24 year-old Dyneisha Holliday, a former employee at a store called Family Dollar, was let go by her boss because she called in sick too often. After she was let go, she arrived in the store, threatening her ex-boss with a gun, but then put the gun back in her holster, and threw a stapler at the boss. She is being held on charges of reckless endangerment and aggrivated assault. [Jan 6]
Just today, in Newport News, Virginia, a teacher, a woman in her 30s, at Richneck Elementary School got shot by a 6 year-old with a gun. This is barely into the first week of 2023.
Time for some sobering stats:
In th US, 41% of school shooters are students, but only 1.6% of all shootings occur in a K-8 school. This is according to the K-12 School Shooting Database, maintained by David Reidman. The data goes back to 1971, recording a total of 571 gun fatalities occurring in schools up to October of 2022. 17 shooters were below the age of 10, and 221 victims were adults. As of November 2022, 2,499 people (students and adults, including teachers, office staff, parents, community members, and guardians) were either killed, wounded, or specifically targeted (but survived) a school shooting since 1971. Every one of the 50 states has had at least one school shooting since 1971, the exceptions being Idaho, Wyoming and South Dakota.
As gun rights people would have it, and to illustrate the lunacy of the second amendment as some interpret it, the deterrent for a bad toddler with a gun would have been a good toddler with a gun.
The Eye of Roomba is Watching. According to the MIT Technology Review, A roomba took photos of a woman sitting on a toilet as it was vacuuming, sending its photos to “the cloud”. The photos ended up on Facebook. Roombas don’t normally send pictures to the cloud, but the owners of these particular Roombas were Roomba employees used as research subjects who signed a waiver. Amazon has recently purchased iRobot (the makers of Roomba) in a $1.7 billion deal. According to the MIT Review, “iRobot declined to let MIT Technology Review view the consent agreements and did not make any of its paid collectors or employees available to discuss their understanding of the terms.”
A bomb in a bum.
Click if you're OK with being weirded out
According to the UK Daily Mail, doctors had to clear the emergency ward and surrounding area when an 88 year-old man arrived in emergency at l’Hôpital Sainte Musse in Toulon, France with a World-war I artillery shell stuck in his rectum. In a procedure involving a bomb squad, the 8-inch long, 2-inch diameter antique shell was surgically removed and the man is recovering.
One way to get attention. According to the New York Times, the US Federal Aviation Agency revoked the pilot license of Trevor Jacob, who uploaded a 13-minute video of himself to YouTube of him crashing his plane in the Los Padres National Forest in California as he escaped by parachute. His video received 1.7 million views.
Burma Shave was a shaving cream sold by the jar, about the size of a jar of cold cream. It was a brushless shaving cream, competitive with similar shaving creams put out by Noxzema and Barbasol at the time. His brand was contemporary with these, first made in 1925 by the Burma Vita company of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In 1927, an advertising campaign was started by founder Clinton Odell, where short signs would be placed in regular intervals along the right side of highways. Each of the six short signs would contain the line of a possibly humorous rhyming poem, followed by the product name, Burma Shave.
Given that the vehicles of those days were either farily slow, or were of the horse-and-buggy variety, they were a way to keep the brand name in your head. It can be stated that billibard signs were not nearly as common yet. But after the Interstate system was built, and cars started to outmode the hose-drawn carriages, these signs got more expensive to maintain as there were much cheaper ways to advertise, including by radio and TV, which became popular after the 1950s.
By 1963, these signs were taken down across the United States, and many of them were donated to The Smithsonian Institute as cultural artefacts. Philip Morris, makers of the popular Marlboro cigarettes, purchased the company that year, the brand held its own over several decades, but soon faded by the end of the 20th century. By the 1990s, they were sold to the American Safety Razor Company, and an attempt was made to reintroduce the brand in 1997. However, the marketing landscape had changed radically by then, and Walmart had dropped products from that company from its lineup, and by 2010 The American Safety Razor Company had to file for bankruptcy.
But the cultural phenomenon they will always be known for are those signs — which have now been called “motion graphics” — not that the signs themselves were moving, but that instead the graphic required the viewer to move to see the successive signs.
For additional discussion about Burma Shave, you can surf here.
Hippo bites Kid. Near a lake in Katwe Kabatoro, Uganda a 2 year-old boy had half of his body swallowed alive by a hippopotamus. A bystander named Chrispas Bagonza began throwing rocks at the hungry hippo, causing the boy to be regurgitated. The boy had minor injuries and was treated in a nearby clinic and given rabies medication before being released back to his parents. While herbivorous, hippos can be aggressive and known to kill over 500 people per year in Africa. (16 Dec)
Almost worked. A driver on an HOV lane on Arizona’s Interstate 10 was pulled over and fined because the inflatable Grinch sitting in his passenger seat did not count as a real passenger. (17 Dec)
Foreign prisons. Sam Bankman-Fried, after being arrested for wire fraud and other crimes, had, up to a couple of days ago, been held in a prison in the Bahamas. The Fox Hill prison, where Bankman-Fried had been remanded, had been described by the US State Department as lacking mattresses and toilet facilities, as well as being infested with rats, maggots and other insects. After paying a $250 million dollar bond, he flew back to his parent’s home to await trial on American Airlines (Business class), and had to surrender his passport after landing as he awaits a federal trial over the future of the failed cryptocurrency firm FTX. (14 Dec)(23 Dec)
This installment has one or two “news-oids” that involve themes of violence and death. These are hidden below under spoiler tags. Click if you wish to read anyway.
More things to worry about.
There is a condition known as “Post Orgasmic Illness Syndrome” (POIS), where you can become allergic to your own orgasms. Most doctors are unfamiliar with the condition so it rarely gets diagnosed. A 27 year-old man living in California showed up in hosital after developing an allergy to his own orgasms. Since age 19, following ejaculation, he would develop flu-like symptoms, including swollen lymph nodes, hives on his forearms, coughing and sneezing. (12 Oct)
Only in Florida.
As drivers William Hale of Georgia and Frank Allison of Callahan, Florida were both driving erratically from Jacksonville, both began to exchange gunfire as they were driving. Both had their daughters as passengers with them at the time, and both daughters were struck by gunfire from each other’s guns. One of the girls suffered a collapsed lung. (13 Oct)
If your avatar dies, you die.
30 year-old Palmer Luckey invented a virtual reality headset which allows you to participate in a virtual reality game, where if you die in the game, it is programmed to kill the user of the headset also. Luckey himself has not tried on his own headset, and it is currently not for sale. (7 Nov)
Dog Bites Man. A blind man named Kyle Maxwell is suing City of Memphis when a police dog bit him without warning. (10 Oct)
Man Bites Dog. In Germany, a man joined in an “extremely aggressive” dispute with 2 others, and while placed on charges of resisting arrest, the man bit a police dog. The canine showed no injuries. (14 Oct)
Sometimes it’s not people that are “stupid”, it’s the system that’s “stupid”.
Accessibility of the right to die. Canada has its poverty and euthanasia policies organized such that the right to die is more accesible than the right to proper health care and basic social services. 65 year-old retiree and resident of Medicine Hat AB, Les Landry acquired one of two doctor’s signatures needed for assisted suicide, on the basis that he is poor and will be unable to pay his debts and medical bills on his federal pension and old age security. He currently suffers from epilepsy originating from treatment for a hernia over a decade ago. He is in a motorized wheelchair. (14 Dec, translated from Spanish)
Intellectual masturbation. In discussing hypotheticals of a court case, U. S. Supreme Court Justice Katanji Brown-Jackson offered an example of a mall Santa photographer who would be comfortable photographing white children but not children of other races, should do so anyway. But, Justice Samuel Alito countered, suggesting that a black Santa at the other end of the mall shouldn’t need to agree to be photographed with a kid wearing KKK robes. Alito’s hypothetical went viral this week. (5 Dec) And of course, a Jewish Santa shouldn’t have to agree to be photographed with … oh, never mind.
The Eye of Apple is watching. Two plaintiffs are filing a class-action lawsuit in California over the ease by which Apple AirTags can be used by abusive ex-partners as a stalking device and use them to aid in abuse and harassment. (6 Dec) Other cases are pending where Apple’s location technology is not accurate enough. In Colorado, retiree Ruby Johnson, age 77, saw police come to her door in an armoured vehicle with attack dogs and rifles. After a few hours of ransacking her home, it sunk in that they had the wrong house. The error was traced to inaccurate information on Apple’s Find My app. Johnson is suing the Colorado police. (5 Dec)
Dog Shoots Man. This time, in Turkey, another dog stepped on another shotgun lying on the ground, killing its master, Ozgur Gevrekoglu, while hunting out in the wilderness. (28 Nov).
Man bites man. In Missouri, 51 year-old golfer Mark Curtis Wells got into a dispute with a fellow golfer and in a struggle, bit off his nose. When police arrived, the victim was found, but both Wells and the victim’s nose were not found. Wells fled in a black Tesla, and later turned himself in. Wells faces up to 7 years in prison on charges of mayhem. (30 Nov)
Annoying sounds. A hospitalized 72 year-old woman in Germany turned off her 79 year-old roommate’s ventilator because she found the sound it made “annoying”. She is now up on charges of attempted manslaughter (after it happened twice), and the other patient has been moved to intensive care. (2 Dec)
Don’t f**k with the salsa. 22 year-old Texas gas station clerk Breanna Miranda is behind bars after opening fire on a customer who broke a jar of salsa. She is up on charges of aggrivated assault with a deadly weapon and a $20,000 bond. The customer was unhurt. (22 Nov)
Bike rider victim for bike rider victims. Portland Oregon cyclist Mark Linehan was cycling on his way to a memorial for bike traffic victims, and was hit by a van who ran a red light. Linehan came out with minor injuries but his bike was totalled. The identity of the driver is not made clear in the article, but the event was caught on camera. (21 Nov)
Court proceedings adjourned due to moaning. In Sheffield, England, a court hearing involving prison-related drug smuggling was held over a video link to one of the lawyers, who was watching porn during the proceedings. Had the lawyer cut the sound, no one would have suspected. But instead, “porn sounds” could be heard throughout the courtroom from the video feed to the lawyer’s computer. The judge will now require all lawyers to attend their court cases in person. (22 Nov)
Unless something major happens in December to upset all stats (which can happen these days), I will embark on an end-of-year reflection on search trends in 2022, in a timelier fashion than I did for 2021.
Worldwide, according to the SEO specialists at SimilarWeb, searches for YouTube and Facebook led the rankings at 3 billion and 1.7 billion searches over the past 11 months, respectively. About 1% of these were the result of paid searches, or search results that were the result of a user clicking on a paid link at the top of the seach results. For the record, I am only considering non-paid seaches in my rankings.
“Translate” was in third place, leading to Google Translate. But this might need to be combined with the search term “google translate”, which is at #7; and “traductor”, which is at #10.
Search terms for four porn sites rank in the top 20 worldwide: pornhub (#4), xvideos (#11), xnxx (#15), and just “porn” (#20). Two of those search terms led to PornHub, who ranks fourth in the world for search terms. Other blogs I have noticed tried to not mention how porn ranks in searches, and even tries to bleep out who they are and where they lie on table screenshots. But I think people know about porn. It’s too late for that. 11 porn sites are in the top 100 searches worldwide. I am counting OnlyFans in the 11. The horses have all escaped, so there is no sense closing the barn door now.
More people care about PornHub than about the weather. Weather is the 5th most searched term in the world, while “amazon” is at #6, as the top retail search term. The top brick-and-mortar retail search term worldwide appears to be Ikea (#60). The next most popular brick-and-mortar retailer appears to be Home Depot (#86).
Google promotes itself quite a bit, since it suggests itself in 11 of the top 100 search terms wordwide. But that might not be entirely their fault. “Google” (#14) has been a Google search term more often than more often than most porn sites, Twitter (#16) , Netflix (#17), or NFL (#28), and certainly more often than the next-used search engine, Yahoo (#33). Bing is not mentioned in the top 100.
C appears to be the most-searched for programming language at the #46 spot; and searches for news sources trail that: “news” (#48), “BBC news” (#85), and “ukraine” (leads to CNN.com) (#92). “wordle” (#53) has been searched more often than “paypal” (#54), indicating the degree of popularity this game has earned over the 2022 year.
Necessity-based search terms appear to be popular. “calculator” (#49) appears to be more popular than “google docs” (#67), “reddit” (#78), and “discord” (#96). Discord is a social media/academic site popular with high school kids and undergrads in college.
People have been googling “speedtest” (#73) to test their internet speed, and this search term beat out searches for “bitcoin” (#75), “airbnb” (#76), and “spotify” (#89). It is no surpise that Bitcoin has plummeted in popularity, as curiosity is drying up regarding its presumed value and novelty. The price of Bitcoin began the year at around $60,000 per coin, and has entered December losing 2/3 of that value.
“Trending” seaches or “trending” anything is a misleading word. There is a misguided tendency to conflate “trending” with “popular”. When something is said to be “trending” in the online world, it means that the number of searches for that “thing” has increased by so many per cent relative to some time in the past, such as last year. For example, if I wrote something that got 1 hit last month, and this month it got 2 hits, my article is “trending”, since it is getting 100% more hits from last month to this month. It is a stat that hides the absolute number of hits by just reporting relative increases or decreases, and might be used to exaggerate the popularity of that search term in discussions.
I will skip foreign-language searches, which are present everywhere under this umbrella.
Not a single “trending” seach term is present in the above-mentioned top 100 in the year 2022. The top trend was “Amazon Prime Day”, a sale that was on a little while ago, which hadn’t existed before. From the initial advertising traffic to Amazon.com increased 67-fold by the end of the sale. It was the #1 trending search term on Google in 2022.
At #3 “amtrak” has trended, possibly in connection with a looming labour dispute recently. It appears apparent that other trends are often in connection with fleeting events and entertainment news, such as “wimbledon” (#10), “johnny depp verdict” (#16), “the summer i turned pretty” (#6) (the name of an online video series), “bjork” (#14) who returned to Iceland this year after living in the US for some decades.
Lots of people use eset antivirus, since license renewals are trending at #32 and #35, with a 17 to 19-fold increase over the year. It kind of stands out among the “trendy” stuff, and wasn’t intended as a plug.
Search Trends in the USA
I will skip the top 100 terms in the USA, since there are many similarities to the top worldwide search terms.
But something about the “trending” list for United States offered by SimilarWeb gave me pause. The #2 search term trending in 2022, up 129-fold since supposedly last year, is “what is a woman”.
It is interesting that “us map”, trending at #9 worldwide, is trending at #6 in America. “Disney Plus” (#10) trended more than “oil prices” (#17), “roe v wade overturn” (#33), “student loan forgiveness 2022” (#57), and “disinformation” (#87).
The American trends show their current fixation on celebrity and scandal. “duchess kate” (#19), “beyonce” (#22), “sid vicious” (#24), “anna nicole smith” (#26) are just a few. At least 20 of the top 100 trending searches had celebrity names. Johnny Depp appears three times in search trends, but all below #90.
“amazon prime day” didn’t trend nearly as well as it did globally, being at #70. It trended less than searches for “brett kavanaugh” (#65) and “bill nye” (#46). It was slightly less trendy than searches for “republicans” (#69). Judging by search trends, there is not as much curiosity for republicans or their causes as the media would have us believe.
Some of these (actually most of these) are from Alex Jones, some of these I made up. You be the judge. I originally wrote or looked up this stuff over a decade ago for Uncyclopedia. A part of it is reprinted here under Creative Commons.
The reduction of patriotism you see nowadays is a government plot. And so is the reduction of matriotism.
Global warming is a government plot. And they also control your thermostat.
Wal-Mart is a government plot.
Vaccines are a government plot.
Government plots are part of a larger government plot.
Illegal immigrants plotted to get free tuition from the government. … As well as discounts on Twinkies. And they also get to go to the front of the lineup in hospital emergency rooms.
The country is run by Nazis, Communists, the rich, illegal aliens, the Illuminati … who all agree on exactly the same way of running the world and all agree on the same way of screwing with your mind.
The UN is part of a conspiracy to sell thousands of children into snuff films.
Vincente Fox can morph into a devil.
91% of Americans are Nazis.
The money going into toll roads are collected by members of Skull and Bones.
The UN goes around the world, sterilizing women at random. Including every woman over the age of 68 (yes, menopause is a government plot).
Gays are actively recruiting in our schools. Recruiting for what, you ask? Recruiting for membership into the International Youth for Drainpipe Engineers, that’s what! And maybe a little game of pin-the-tail-on-the-Meat-Hound afterward.
The secret rulers of the world can live forever. The Scientologico-Illuminato-Skull-and-Boneso-Bohemian-Grovio industrial complex contain every member in it that has ever lived, still living. They took Sauron’s rings to give them eternal life, and they will soon cross species boundaries and become Elvish. Then, Melkor will genetically modify them to become Orcs.
Feminism is a government plot. And Emma Goldman danced at the revolution.
They sacrificed babies at Bohemian Grove.
The Quakers were owned by the Mafia.
Microsoft is owned by the Mafia.
The Aztecs would take hallucinogenic drugs and cut their own penises off. This is why you are here and the Aztecs are not.
Environmentalists have been behind every economic slowdown over the past 40 years.
The Scientologico-Illuminato-Skull-and-Boneso-Bohemian-Grovio industrial complex have been planning a secret world government. With the Freemasons as their bureaucrats.
The Quakers! They’re in it with the Aliens! They’re building landing strips for Gay Martians!
Gluten was brought to us by an alien conspiracy.
Shakespeare’s plays were written by a committee consisting of Freemasons and Quakers.
The Shroud of Turin was painted by Michelangelo.
Jesus and His Ho, Mary Magdalene, were married. Tied da knot, made it legal, got hitched! This was the only way Jesus could get income tax deductions.
They use Area 51 for testing lethal chemicals on prisoners.
Project Blue Book is proof of alien existence. And the reason the government has been hiding news of alien visits is because they are aliens themselves and are slowly taking over control of government. Just check out those reptilian appendages on some of those First Ladies.
Clinton’s cabinet was a Jewish conspiracy.
ISIS is a Jewish conspiracy.
Non-belief in UFOs is part of an oil-ist bias against the truth.
The Massachusetts Port Authority has been taken over by the Chinese Communist Army. Actually, that would explain a lot of things …
The Gulf of Tonkin Incident happened.
Your missing rings and jewelery have turned up in the Federal Reserve.
The last honourable war was the Civil War. Anyone who died in any war after that was a chump.
The fact that not all conspiracies made this list is the result of a plot. See? The Illuminati have conspired with wiki writers to form the Illiterati.
Columbine was a government plot. As is the right to bear arms.
Starbucks is part of the Illuminati.
Wal-Mart is a front for the Department of Defense.
The Trilateral Commission worships Moloch.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is a known Nazi.
2.3 trillion dollars disappeared from the U. S. Federal Reserve in 2001. And it was all spent on Twinkies to feed the members of the Illegal Immigrant Conspiracy.
There are people plotting to take over the world, perceptible to only dumb white guys. That’s because dumb white guys have mottled, brown teeth from not drinking the fluoridated water.
SWAT teams are led by a cabal of Muslims led by Ayatollah Obama.
The Illuminati planed to poison us when they wrote the Codex Alimentarius. They distribute microwave ovens to homes around the country to take all the nutrients out of your food.
In this day and age, musing about this question is considered dangerous, if pursued in a serious way. I would risk being maligned with the so-called “post-truthers”, people who appear to selectively pick and choose evidence in front of them to support this or that conspiracy theory. Too often these days, “free thinking” is really a veiled attempt to support certain political agendas, when the motivation is to not free you to think. Also to cut off access to helpful information, and to cope with this loss. Exactly how free is one to think, really? There is a reason you don’t hear about socialism as often as, say, reducing taxes, is because we need to understand exactly who those people are who benefit from certain thoughts being thinkable and others being supressed.
I am thinking about a whole different kettle of fish. I am wondering about when decision-making in complex situations, does “truth” matter? It is likely that knowing key facts are quite useful, but sometimes that is also in short supply. It is then when you have to resort to a mixture of scant concrete information, advice from others, past experience, and guesswork. In the end the decision is yours, and you have to have faith in it. There is no glorious “the truth is inside you” nonsense, no using “the force” or other movie tag lines that will guide you to victory. In the end you might be wrong as much as you might be right. Either way, you have to own the consequence of your decisions, even in the face of degenerate information.
And tomorrow is another day. You can correct things; plans can change; wrongs can be righted. But sometimes you never know the truth, except for the outcomes of your decisions. That is why, I believe, that others have no right to interfere in your business unless you ask them for their judgement. In my case, there has not been that many cases where I really needed the advice of other people, but I always knew what people I could ask.
I think that is the way of it for most people. We do our own level best most of the time, but others are around for tough decisions. It’s not important to have all of the information, although it is best to gather whatever information you can. If it is about child rearing, then we often rely on instincts, things we read or advice from those we seek help from; most often those who have gone through it. But in the moment, we rely on our instincts, and that is sometimes all we have access to. Maybe even most of the time. I also don’t think that it matters much how much reading or self-education we take upon ourselves. Even if you knew all sides, and all of the details, I don’t think that would help in deciding. When the chips are down, instincts are sometimes all you have.
Mental detritus – Stuff going on in my head since earlier today, aided by some online interaction. I may elaborate on some of these points in later articles, but don’t hold your breath.
I. The world consists of piano players and those who are played. Be the player.
II. I did a lookup of the most commonly used letters in the English language, and they are in fact, in order from most frequent: e, a, r, i, o, t, n, s, l. The website I looked at (citing the Concise Oxford) listed all 26 letters, but I stopped here, since I noticed that the 5 most frequent consonants here are: r, t, n, s, and l. The most frequent vowel is: e (and is the most frequent letter altogether). RSTLNE are the 6 allowable letters in the television game show Wheel of Fortune for the final grand prize round. The contestant is allowed to pick any three additional letters to help them solve the puzzle.
III. I am among those who are fans of the New York Times “Spelling Bee” puzzle. They offer you seven letters arranged in a honeycomb, called a “hive”. Out of those letters, a puzzle solver must spell as many words as they can with only those letters. The central letter in that honeycomb (surrounded by the other 6) is a letter that must be included in every word that is allowable. So, you can’t just spell any word with the 7 letters. Your words have to include the central letter. Words must be at least 4 letters long, and can include the same letter more than once. There is a website people frequent to obtain hints with the daily Spelling Bee, and that is Shunn.net. A term that comes up in the Bee are “pangrams”. A word is a pangram if it makes use of all seven letters in the hive. Most hives have at least one pangram, and as many as 3 or 4 in rarer instances. The Times publishes a hive every day including Sundays.
IV. I entered rstlne/A into the Shunn site as a fictitious Spelling Bee puzzle to see the stats it generated. 1,038 words and 35 pangrams. You would need to come up with an average of 1 word every two minutes over a 24 hour period without sleeping, meal or bathroom breaks to get to Genius (the highest) level. And even then you only came up with 70% of the 6,803 points, and by extension, roughly 70% of the words. Getting all of the words would take you the better part of the second day without breaks and solving at the same rate. So if you want a hive with only easy letters, be careful what you pray for.
V. “Rock became a corporate classification, just like the blues. They took off its sexual organs. Some people got paid a lot of money to bottle the rebellion of the ’60s, and that’s when it started to mean zero to me.” — Van Dyke Parks, 1973. This quote came up in Wikipedia when I was researching the artist Van Dyke Parks for a recording that was on sale at the Omnivore Records website. Remarkably, he is still alive and still making music these days. He shouldn’t have turned down membership in CSN&Y and The Byrds. I think he needed to surround himself by good musicians to turn his ideas into something more of hit quality. The 1973 quote has not aged a day over the decades.
VI. In a few days, December 5 to be exact, my New York Times subscription will lapse. It is an expensive publication, and it is mostly American news. Cancelling it is a way of recouping 240 bucks ahead of Christmas. I mostly read it for the Spelling Bee anyway, so the NYT is too expensive for just puzzles. That said, that also means I will have to say farewell to my Spelling Bee chums on Facebook, which I have had fun making comments in over the past year or so; and also had fun reading of other’s wit, folly and love of words and wordplay. It didn’t take long to find an app for my Android phone that has Spelling Bee on it. And no ads!
I have, by some coincidence watched three videos – and two of them in a row which dealt with humility. It is not much of a surprise, since YouTube’s algorithms would easily be responsible for that.
The first video on humility came from Father Mike Schmitz, the second from author J. R. R. Tolkien. I will try to deal with these in tandem. I also vaguely recall some time ago, humility mentioned by ex-psychotherapist Daniel Mackler.
I’ll discuss the one by Mackler first, since it came to me quite a while ago, although I can’t provide a definite link for it. The other two were the ones that came on the same day. Mackler’s conception of humility is that it is the thing that is needed for a successful, honest self-analysis. When a person is not learning from their mistakes, or display an inability to be reflective, it is because they lack humility. If you think you are perfect, then you will feel you have nothing to learn. Humble people make the best leaders and are the most engaged with people around them. Mackler goes into a number of ways by which our self-honesty is blocked, and it is usually out of the mistaken thinking that humility is a weakness. A psychology-based website gives six markers for people who display humility: 1) self-honesty; 2) an accurate perception of our place in the world; 3) an ability to acknowledge our mistakes and limitations; 4) openness; 5) low self-focus; 6) an appreciation for the value of all things.
For me, Mackler’s definition is straightforward. Father Schmitz has another straightforward one, obviously from the Bible (the Catholic Bible, since the book of Sirach is mentioned).
Humility is high enough on the Christianity totem pole that it is listed as one of the Seven Heavenly Virtues; the other six being chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, kindness, and patience. The opposite of these are the Seven Deadly Sins, which are: pride, lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, and wrath.
Schmitz gives in his homily a punchy, straightforward set of talking points on humility. The main thing is that humility is not the same as thinking less of yourself, since that is the popular conception. Rather than thinking less of yourself, humility is thinking of yourself, less. Humility is taking an interest in and paying attention to others. Humility is always taking opportunities to be thankful to people, and to show gratitude. Humility is also the willingness to acknowledge the truth about yourself and your shortcomings, at least to yourself, and to learn from that. Schmitz and most clergy are more interested in aiming their homilies at getting through life and into heaven, and so he doesn’t say much on humility’s application in making you a better leader.
J. R. R. Tolkien would say less about the latter, although all three volumes of Lord of the Rings are replete with lessons of the value of humility. The One Ring of Power tempted everyone who laid eyes on it. But the most tempted were the ones with traces of status given to them by their race and birth: elves, dunedain, dwarves, men. Hobbits had so little status, that most of these other denizens of Middle Earth hadn’t even been aware of their existence for quite some time. So simple a folk were they, that it appeared they had no ego to bruise, no pride to hurt, no magical ability, and so a hobbit like Frodo could carry the ring of power without anywhere near the damage it would have done to any other race described in the story. But as we find out, it will still do damage, even to hobbits.
Isildur took the ring from Sauron, but succumbed to the temptation of pride and power of the ring and so refused to throw the ring into Mount Doom, and died while carrying it. The ring thus became known as Isildur’s Bane. Gandalf knew he couldn’t carry the ring; neither could Galadriel. Boromir also fell into temptation of obsessing over the ring, and died. The creature Gollum wore and possessed the ring for centuries as it stretched his lifespan and fell into a life of long hardship, isolation and loneliness. The skeletal, wiry Gollum we read of in these volumes used to be a hobbit, and went by the name Smeagol. His brother Deagol found the Ring of Power, and Smeagol murdered him over it, and took possession of it.
The feelings expressed most often in response to the ring are lust, envy, and greed. The characters in the story either overcome these deadly sins, or they themselves die at some point. So, LOTR works as an epic-sized morality play, where good triumphs over evil. It is no suprise that the author chose the most humble characters he could, two hobbits, to finally throw the ring into the fire, to show the triumph of good over evil. But as the video discussion from Inspiring Philosophy tried to get across, virtue itself is not responsible, it just provides conditions for the ring to be destroyed. In the actual story, Frodo also succumbed to weakness at the worst possible moment, only to be outdone by a much less virtuous character, Gollum, both whose ring and himself end up falling into the fires of the volcano in Mount Doom. Frodo just needed to be an imperfect Frodo; Gollum just needed to be a deeply conflicted creature who has succumbed to the ring; and Good would triumph, since that is the way Eru Iluvatar designed the world in the beginning, according to the tale. There needs to be no other hero except Eru Iluvatar, the God figure of the story, with all others being an instrument of Eru’s will.
What I have a slight problem with, is, the idea that the entire saga has as its backdrop the “races” issue, and with it the conception that some of them rank higher than others. It appears to be roughly: Maiar > Wizards > Elves > Dwarves > Dunedain > Men > Hobbits, with equivalent rankings among “evil” beings. It means that a precondition of humility in this story is that you know your “station” in life in connection to your race. The consequences of rising above that station are tantamount to rebelling against God’s design, and instead making your own meaning and way in life that is separate from God’s plan. This was shown in The Silmarillion with Melkor wanting to do just that in the form of creation of the new world, leading ultimately to the downfall of evil at the end of the three volumes of LOTR.
I think it is one reason that the Amazon Prime Video creation Rings of Power came into existence. For all of its overt and largely unnecessary political correctness, what it tries to do is to do away with this “station in life” thing. I agree with the sentiment that we do away with such things in connection with “humility”, since it acquiesces in the powers-that-be and prevents us from questioning it or doing something about it. In the world of LOTR by contrast, Hobbits should just shut up and tend their gardens, eat their food and keep smoking pipeweed; dwarves should just shut up and hide inside their mountains, make Mithril and stone carvings; and the world of Men should just be stewards of the earth going into the fourth age, as the other magical beings run away to the Undying Lands. What the Maiar decide to do with Middle Earth is beyond their ken and they have no right to an opinion about it or to ask questions. This describes a world built on Providence: a world where God is responsible for setting the conditions for the universal order (similar to the creation story involving Eru Iluvatar in “Ainulindalë: The Music of the Ainur” in The Silmarillion), and the only freedom the rest of us have is to accept God’s conditions and go about the lives we were born to live.
There is a kind of old-school Catholic sensibility to this, since Vatican II didn’t occur until 25 years after LOTR was written. The mentality that priests withheld more spiritual knowledge than they knew, as it was thought the congregation would never be smart enough to understand the deeper questions of life, follows this pattern. The laity would go about their lives, only to visit Church on Sunday, where the readings, psalms and homilies would give us a little glimpse into the spiritual mysteries of the world. After church, parishoners might have briefly reflected, if they did that at all, and then went about their lives. Pre-Vatican II, knowledge appeared to be something for the Church to hoard, then give in minute doses to the general public, and only when absolutely necessary. The thinking behind this being, I would suppose, that the Church provides the conditions for its flock to go about their lives without needing to ever seriously ask the larger questions. Indeed, providing for such conditions would require the asking of deep questions that no one else would need to bother with. Since the Mid-1960s and after Vatican II, there was a recognition that inquiry into deep questions of life is healthy and is something we all should do; and access to such sources of information should be open to everyone. The Church became more open in later decades, even as the number of parishoners began diminishing.
But Rings of Power overdoes it in that it also appears to do away with the very idea of humility, leading us back to a morality of the ends justifying the means, even if the “good guys” do bad things for good. I will stop short of what the vloggers at Inspiring Philosophy began to dignify with Nietzchian nihilism. My feeling is that there was no such thought process going on with the writers of Rings of Power. Based on some of the reviews I have read and heard about, there might even have been a problem with basic plot and character development. So it sounds like most of the $150 million per season appears to be sunk into making cinematic visuals and spectacle.
People who try to “make their own way” in life take freedom into their own hands, and with freedom comes responsibility. The demands on them are much greater than a hobbit who spends their lives eating, drinking and tending their crops and gardens. They need to learn more deeply about the value of taking responsibility for one’s own decisions and actions. They need to learn more about the world and about life and have a voracious curiosity about it as a result. In fact they would definitely need to be humble, since they are constantly up against how little they know about nearly everything. In fact, humility will be the way to the light when nearly everything else feels like darkness. Our world is full of ways of finding things out; of investigating and of looking before you leap. Such people have to learn to constantly take advantage of that. If you are beset with pride and think you know everything, you won’t see any of it, and you won’t last long in this lifestyle.
It is strange that this last way of conceiving of humility is rarely spoken about. The problem is not humility; the problem is that the humble person is beginning to show curiosity about matters that are deemed to be beyond their ken. They are not supposed to be asking these questions. But when this happens, these people are often spoken of in dark tones, and seen as breaking from God, breaking from family, breaking from society, breaking from the Church. It is said to lead to discord; to anarchy and chaos. They are often charitably referred to as “lost sheep”, or uncharitably as excommunicating themselves from God. It is a necessary illusion that keeps the rabble in line. And to maintain the illusion, it is important to prevent intelligent discussion about it. Even as we now live in a world full of people who make their own way in ways I could never imagine – transgenders, gay and lesbian, and other forms of gender bending – the bulk of the discussion is either immature-sounding or couched in obscure jargon and stilted rhetoric that appears to produce more smoke than light, and pitch these people against society more than normal. Intelligent, sane discussion shorn of its jargon is difficult to discern. Labelling is often unhelpful in understanding people or the world around us and we would be better off in a world without labels. Yet many of these people who would benefit from fighting off labels not only label themselves but the rest of us (binary versus nonbinary for example). Doing so might appear to give them a sense of strength and control, but it remains a false sense, thus falling into the same trap as the larger society fell into with such labelling.
Carrying a discussion where people are labelled only works if the people who are labelled accept the label. If they do not, they are usually not part of the discussion, and those labellers are left discussing their lives in an echo chamber where their isolation from mainstream society is intensified. Indeed, this is what has happened. “Discussions” about things like transgenderism with mainstream society often amount to lectures where adherents of transgenderism are very nearly the only ones doing the talking. There is no recognition that labelling is the central problem of the entire enterprise. Labelling is really more of an impediment to understanding of our fellow humans. Labels are used to separate people, and intensify social isolation. As a result, labels ultimately dehumanize those who are labelled. Even self-labelling is problematic and is self-dehumanizing.
There is the other question as to whether anyone would be brave enough to part with a lifestyle where everything is figured out and decided for them, in favour of a lifestyle where you have to decide everything for yourself. It is a scary prospect, and few would take the risk of taking over control of their lives in any profound way for this reason. For those who decide the former, they can turn off their thinking brain and go on autopilot through life. For those who decide the latter, there is no autopilot.
Due to circumstances beyond our control, we are master of our fate and captain of our soul.
This is when some media have nailed it. The New York Post wrote a news article yesterday regarding a certain Florida retiree making an announcement. The headline is below the fold and cross-references you to turn to page 26 to see the actual article. When you turn there, you see the article referenced, this time with the headline “Been there, Don that” (sic).
This is Rupert Murdoch doing the ultimate in damning someone with faint praise. The retiree referred to here is apparently an avid golfer and collector of classified documents. He is also senile and is known to throw ketchup at the television. The retiree, a certain Donald J. Trump, is saying he will run for president in 2024. The article, which was not much over 100 words in its entirety, was bylined by “Post staff”.
That day’s issue headlined the wounding of a 3 year-old and another about a crackdown on gangs as the day’s top stories, the usual fare in the Murdoch-owned tabloid daily.
I first became acquainted with Mackler’s work as a blogger on widltruth.net, and as a vlogger on YouTube. His YouTube channel is a middling channel with about 44,000 subscribers. He has written at least two books, which I have not read as of yet. He is a former psychotherapist and has in these latter days resorted to creating “content” (I hate that word, but it encompasses his many multimedia efforts) which go on about his views of the world, his views on psychotherapy, and his views on life, family, and human nature.
By and large, his vlogs and blog articles feel compelling, and hold my attention. But while his youtube vlogs, are usually clear and topic-focused, he generates relatively low views compared with other vloggers in a similar field such as Kati Morton and Dr. Todd Grande. I still find Mackler compelling, and to anyone who understands the daunting task he is giving himself in his multimedia efforts, he has no lower a status compared with these people.
He says he quit psychotherapy because he became disgruntled with the norms of the profession, and the way other patients are treated. His chief criticism was that therapists were too quick to drug people rather than get to the bottom of their traumas. As a psychotherapist, he asserts that all psychiatric disorders are rooted in suppressed trauma. The “cure” for this is, if I understand it correctly, is to get the patient to remember those past hurts, go through a grieving process, and then find a new sense of self by which growth can then feel more authentic.
This can be a long, exhausting, arduous process for both the therapist and the client. Most therapists, by Mackler’s reckoning, don’t want to go to the trouble of getting to the bottom of a person’s traumas, and would rather take part in continuing the supression and settling for an appearance of mental health, rather than the real thing. Such psychotherapists might refer them to a psychiatrist, where drugs and possible hospitalization are possible.
Mackler would oppose this, since he would feel that most administering of drugs and hospitalizations are an attempt to control the patient rather than offer actual help. The drugs and incarcerations appear to be done more for the therapist’s benefit than the patient’s. But Mackler feels that successful analyses are stymied by the failure of the therapist to analyze and understand their own trauma. By his reckoning, a greater understanding of one’s own trauma makes for a better therapist. The reliance of commision to a psych ward and drug therapy is inversely proportional to a psychotherapist’s understanding of their own hangups.
Mackler takes this further. He says that with a sufficiently self-actualized psychotherapist, one can cure a client of schizophrenia, without the aid of drugs. On that scale, I begin to think that Mackler quit because he feared he was insufficiently self-actualized for such tasks. Few of us would be, including few therapists. Humanity is, as he says in his videos, filled with people with unresolved trauma. Most of these traumas happen in early infancy and early childhood. So it would be quite difficult to find the kind of therapist that he would prefer to populate the profession.
Even more so, because one would have to ask, what is it that motivates someone to become a therapist in the first place? The field is normally populated with therapists with unresolved traumas of their own. And indeed, who better to understand the wounded than those who recognize their own wounds? I feel that Mackler places too high a standard on requiring therapists to dive down their own trauma rabbit hole to resolve all of them, or else conclude that their therapy is of no use.
In a perfect world, therapists would resolve all of their traumas, and bravely chart a course for patients to resolve their own, even for psychopaths and schizophrenics. But this is not a perfect world, and none of us are perfect. There is no “royal road” to self-actualization. We will always have imperfect helpers, imperfect institutions, imperfect professional norms, imperfect laws and regulations. One also needs reminding that it is an imperfect world that produces trauma in the first place. In a perfect world, there would be no psychological trauma and thus there would not be a need to train and employ practitioners. Mental hospitals would vanish. Drug companies would have to abandon psychoactive drugs as sales would have dried up. Daniel Mackler would be without a profession to abandon and criticize.
I feel that Mackler’s disillusionment of the mental health professions appear to be more of a lost romanticism about its practitioners. Yes indeed, drugs and incarceration are probably the norm, and so much so that Mackler is probably looked at as weird for thinking it’s weird. Mackler was in the profession for 10 years and had a lot to lose by quitting his profession. It likely signals that what he saw from the inside turned him off, but at the same time he saw himself moving in the same direction and wanted out. I can understand not wanting to add himself to a profession that dehumanizes its patients rather than humanizes them.
I admit that after being made into a lump by covid, it was considered a breath of fresh air to commute to work with my e-bike. I own a Quebec-made E-Cartier. The distance is one that I wouldn’t normally have time to cover on a daily basis, except this bike made it happen. This bike has a motorized assist built into the pedal assembly. And as an “assist”, it does just that; it helps you. If you stop pedalling, the bike just coasts. You do, in fact have to put effort into your pedalling, contrary to stereotypes, and yes, it can amount to a pretty good workout.
The external battery and the motor add greatly to the weight of the bike. When the battery loses its charge, you are left with lugging an unusually heavy bike. I have been pretty good about recharging the battery in a timely fashion, so power outages are rare. In normal circumstances, if you started as an out-of-shape lump like me, the bike can still give a good workout, even with the assist. Of course, you can be in control of how much assist you want: turn down the level if you want more of a workout, or turn it off altogether. When turned off, the battery can still power the instrument display, consisting of a digital odomoeter, speedometer, and battery level indicator. It can also show how much assist you are getting.
The bike was about CAD$3000 when new. It was neither the cheapest E-bike, nor the most expensive.
But I have heard from the New York Times that there is a new, sleeker bike in the CAD$4800 range that has much of the bulky and unsightly stuff such as cables, batteries, and even lights embedded inside the frame. So, that leaves the bike free of unsightly tech stuff. At that price point, you can expect to find a lot of innovation. For one thing, it is one of the only bikes that have automatic gear shifting. It is called a VanMoof, from The Netherlands.
But like much of what I read from NYT, it is full of breathless adoration for the shiny new bike, and not really looking at some of the downsides. For one thing, batteries have an end-of-life, and you can only charge them so many times before they need to be replaced. Now this can be a matter of a few years, but contrast this to decades for a normal bicycle with no batteries. Can batteries on the VanMoof in fact be replaced? Replacing batteries embedded deep in the frame sounds like a hell of a job. Few reviews of E-Bikes ever mention this.
If you can’t replace the batteries, we are left with a very heavy bike whose automatic shifter likely depended on the battery. In addition the innovative anti-theft system would no longer be functional; neither would the front or back lights, also embedded inside the frame. So are we expected to dispose of the whole bike? I feel that is even a concern for my E-Cartier, since even with the external battery, I have noticed that in recent models, they seemed to change the way the battery is mounted to the frame. It is possible that batteries may not be transferrable across bikes of different model years, by that reasoning.
One gets the feeling that these are not the kinds of questions we are allowed to ask. Just give the salesperson your money. This is the reason I am leery of fully electric cars as well. Once their batteries lose their ability to hold a charge, the entire car is junk. I have driven cars that are more than 25 years old. You can’t do that with any fully electric car on the market. My fear is that the same logic is being applied to the VanMoof.
Jean Vanier (1928-2019) was founder of L’Arche, an international organization to help people with disabilities. He was also a philosopher and theologian, who is influential in helping me develop my thoughts on such concepts as forgiveness, which was a last main topic of a series of five Massey Lectures given in 1998 on the program Ideas, on CBC Radio One. I just did a search, and free online audio is available on his series Becoming Human, which has those five lectures. But he keeps coming back to his discussion of L’Arche, and how it is used to teach him about how we overcome our loneliness, fear and anxiety to become more fully integrated into our communities.
While I understand from a CBC report in 2020 revealed allegations of sexual abuse, I feel that this should not be allowed to overshadow his contributions to the humanities and theology.
Learning. My learning style is to open a book and learn stuff, but only when I want to and only about what I want to learn. That had guided my level of academic mediocrity throughout high school and university.
I guess if what you want to use university for is to answer your questions rather than being guided as to what questions they want you to be asking yourself, then that is the path to acedemic mediocrity. Einstein was seen as mediocre in university and had an office job issuing patents to make ends meet before he offered the world his special and general relativity theories. The same was true for Newton, seen as a mediocre math student in Oxford before the Bubonic plague kept him at home thinking obsessively about optics, gravity, and calculus.
The polite thing to say about me is that I am – ahem – not smart in the same way, but the sameness is just in how other assessors saw us. Frankly, when Covid hit, which is a firecracker next to the dynamite that was the Bubonic Plague, I was gaining weight and struggling to stay motivated and engaged with life. No scientific or math breakthroughs for me. Any assessor who thought me as mediocre back in uni would have had their every observation confirmed during Covid.
I did coach, administer and mark several math contests over the past two decades. That’s something, and it is something better than mediocre. I am now leading math clubs, along with Computer Science clubs as my school’s only full-time computer science teacher. Again, not many people would volunteer for any of that. So yes, I may appear mediocre in some circles, but when the rubber hits the road, I gravitate to what is challenging, and rise to the challenge, while urging my students to do the same.
But what about academic achievement? I had to make up for what I didn’t learn on my own, due to my following my own curiosity in any academic programme rather than follow the curriculum. I never surrendered my natural curiosity to forces from academe, regardless of the carrot of higher academic honors being dangled in front of me. In our culture, it seems that learning, even from grade school, boils down to that kind of a tradeoff. I never get a sense that there was ever room for compromise.
Most people give up their special set of questions to pursue what they are told, and it seems they end up comfortable, but losing their natural curiosity, believing that learning is hard, learning is not natural unless you have a pre-digested curriculum with pre-digested questions to answer. These are questions you are not necessarily asking; questions you are not necessarily curious about.
I was always confused as a child as to why I did so poorly in school. I would ask my counsellor why he thought it was. He said he didn’t know. So, it was unknown to science or something? These days, it seems quite simple. My will to learn was never really tamed or never really broken to conform to other’s expectations. Pursuing learning for its own pleasure was one of the few pleasures I seemed to be able to have in my teens, and the nice thing about this pleasure is that it is perennial. So, as a result, I always favoured the self-indulgence of asking my own questions, doing my own reading, and finding things out for myself.
The energy I devoted to that meant I had less energy for the course material at hand. But on some deep level I also didn’t find the idea of giving up my freedom to learn in exchange for a high mark to be that worthwhile a tradeoff. It seemed that the way the education system was set up was to make you feel less competent to do basic things in life, which ought not to be rocket science. Making easy things seem hard is not the mark of a good educational system.